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book review

Louise Penny’s How the Light Gets In.

How The Light Gets In
By Louise Penny (Minotaur, 416 pages, $29.99)

One of the best Canadian crime series goes from strength to strength. Louise Penny takes us to the exquisite Quebec village of Three Pines and the stalwart Sûreté Inspector Armand Gamache. Three Pines, as all fans know, is a hidden jewel, not on the map, in a mountain cleft that makes it unreachable by computer or mobile phone. In short, a place to escape the stress of modernity and all its devices. And, of course, there's murder.

This time out, it's days to Christmas and the dead are in Montreal. Gamache is at war with his superiors, who are attempting to oust him by turning his homicide department into a rabble of disrespect and incompetence. He has also lost the aid and friendship of his long-time associate Jean-Guy Beauvoir. So when a Montreal murder takes him to Three Pines, it's a relief to be among the kind and caring folk there.

The mystery demands access to the outside world and so, flying against the very charm of Three Pines, local heroes Myrna, Gabri, and Olivier agree to help Gamache set up a satellite dish. It's an emergency move, one hopes, but after case is solved, it's still there. Does this mark the end of Three Pines' isolated perfection? We'll have to wait for the next instalment of this marvellous series to find out.

Holy Orders
By Benjamin Black (Henry Holt, 304 pages, $30)

My first literary introduction to Ireland included leprechauns and singing pubs. That may have been the myth but, in the prose of Benjamin Black, 1950s Dublin was a dank and oppressive place, dominated by religion and bereft of charm. Benjamin Black, a.k.a. John Banville, is a master at the perfect scene and the artful image. That's what makes his series featuring the enigmatic medical examiner Quirke so memorable. This novel begins with a dead body in a lock and leads to death and destruction in the Catholic church, Ireland's most powerful and most demanding master. Beautifully written, with unforgettable characters and perfect pacing, this is one of the best books of the year.

Children Of The Revolution
By Peter Robinson (McClelland and Stewart, 400 pages, $29.95)

It's been over 25 years since DCI Alan Banks first solved a case in Yorkshire and 20 books later, mulling retirement, aging gracefully, Peter Robinson's solid detective is still a joy. This time out, he returns to what, for Robinson, is always the best plot line – the motive buried in personal history. The dead man is a disgraced college professor abandoned by all who knew him, living a solitary and penurious life. But there's 5,000 pounds in his pocket. There are plenty of suspects in his recent past but it's his time as a member of a revolutionary cabal in 1970s Essex that interests Banks. And Banks's interest opens old and dangerous memories. One of the series' best.

Let It Burn
By Steve Hamilton (Minotaur, 288 pages, $29.99)

This superb series, set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, deserves more praise than it gets. The latest has Alex McKnight leaving his usual small town and heading for Detroit, the place where his career as a city cop ended. McKnight doesn't expect to stay but he drops in on the old precinct house to see the guys. Then a cold case he investigated 20 years before grabs him. Hamilton grabs the reader on page one and keeps going. On the way, he fills in some of Alex McKnight's history.

By Kelley Armstrong (Random House Canada, 496 pages, $29.95)

I am not a fan of mysteries that cross over into other genres, and I don't like books that begin with infant narrators. So when I tell you that, despite that, Omens kept me reading on, you can bet it's a good book. The regrettable kiddo lasts only a few pages and does play a part in the plot. Then we hop to the worst week in the life of Olivia Taylor Jones, beautiful, smart, cultivated and rich, enjoying the fruits of her entitled life. When the press discovers that she is the daughter of two notorious serial killers, everything changes. With a splat, all those entitlements go awry when the press discovers that Olivia is really the daughter of Todd and Pamela Larson, the most notorious serial killers in the Midwest. In a heartbeat, her real name, Eden Larson, and her picture are front-page news. Led by a series of seemingly random events, Olivia heads to the small town of Cainsville, Ill., and what she hopes is seclusion, but Cainsville has been waiting for Eden , and the mystery of her parents has just begun. A clever whodunit with some very nice twists and the fantasy actually works.

Bones of The Lost
By Kathy Reichs (Scribner, 336 pages, $29.99)

Carolina medical examiner Temperance Brennan is in a flap. Her daughter, Katy, grieving the death of her fiancé in Afghanistan, has joined the army; Katy's father, Tempe's soon-to-be-ex, is griping that the divorce isn't coming through fast enough. Then there's the dead young girl found on the side of a road and the six mummified dogs from Peru that a Desert Storm vet tried to slip through customs. Then there's Tempe's other life, up in Montreal. Reichs once again spins her tale and manages to provides action and outrage without ever bogging down the plot.

By Pierre Lemaitre, translated by Frank Wynne (MacLehose Press, 384 pages, $24.95)

How the French can combine chilling gore and charming wit is a Gallic mystery. This book begins with a young woman snatched off the streets of Paris and beaten, tortured, and locked in wooden cage suspended from the ceiling of an abandoned warehouse. Why and who are the issue, but most of all, there's the question of where. Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven must find the why in order to uncover where Alex is hidden and save her life. Verhoeven is a short man in a tall suit and fans of Fred Vargas will love him.

The Bones of Paris
By Laurie R. King (Bantam, 432 pages, $30)

This isn't the best of Laurie R. King's collection of novels, but even a middling King is good enough to keep you reading. Set in Paris, in 1929, The Bones Of Paris welcomes back Harris Stuyvesant and Bennett Grey in a plot line that combines Dada, Grand Guignol, old bones, and some very nice old-fashioned ratiocination. Stuyvesant is hired to locate a missing American girl in Jazz Age Paris. The clues lead him into the heart of the art world and to bistro tables with the likes of Man Ray and Picasso. There's not much whodunit but the background makes it all worthwhile.

The Gifted
By Gail Bowen (McClelland & Stewart, 258 pages, $29.95)

What's next for Joanne Kilbourn Shreve? Over two decades, we've followed her from backroom NDP political worker to widowed single parent, to college professor, and now, to happily remarried wife and mother, grandmother, and retiree. Along the way, she's solved several really nasty murders, but that's not why we read. This chapter in Joanne's life is her facing the reality of her adopted daughter's artistic talents and what that means for a young woman already dragging a lot of baggage. There's a murder in The Gifted, but it takes a while to happen and it's not the center of the plot. Will Taylor Shreve's gifts take her to the darkness that ultimately swallowed her biological mother? Or will Joanne and Zack manage to keep her safe? And there's a really nice twist at the end that has nothing at all to do with the murder. Stay tuned.

Always Love A Villain on San Juan Island
By Sandy Frances Duncan and George Szanto (TouchWood Editions, 264 pages, $14.95 (paper))

The is the fourth in the slick little series by Duncan and Szanto featuring insurance investigator Kyra Rachel and journalist Noel Franklin. The setting, again, is the Pacific Northwest, this time fictional San Juan Island, just off the B.C. coast. They begin in a university investigating a lost manuscript that may or may not prove a case of plagiarism but they're quickly drawn into a far more serious crime; a professor's daughter has been kidnapped and the ransom is the professor's highly sensitive research. This is a good weekend book and you may want to read the other three.

Black Star Nairobi
By Mukoma Wa Ngugi (Melville International Crime, 272 pages, $15.95)

This stylish thriller is a sequel to Wa Ngugi's debut, Nairobi Heat, which introduced the American and Kenyan detectives Ishmael and O. Now it's 2007 and they've opened their own office and named it Black Star. Barack Obama is running for President of the United States and Kenya is on the map at last. Their first big case is a murder that may be linked to the bombing of a Nairobi hotel. Terrorists? External or home-grown? The thugs who attempt to get them to give up the case seem local but, in a world of shadows, everyone is suspect. This is a terrific novel with intriguing characters and a wonderful setting.